Franco Mondini-Ruiz

AnArte Gallery, San Antonio

Through March 30
by Chad Dawkins

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      Franco Mondini- Ruiz
      Bedtime Stories (installation view)
      Hand crafted iron bed frame with assortment of sculptures, mixed media
      Courtesy of the artist

      View Gallery

      The title Ginormous is fitting for this show by the artist Franco Mondini-Ruiz—fitting not in the sense that AnArte Gallery is full of large pieces, but more in the sense that the space is filled with an excessive amount of stuff. Ginormous is a quantity here, not a quality. The gallery is filled with paintings, drawings, ceramic sculptures and piñatas mimicking the signature orange box of luxury brand Hermès.

      Naturally, every object is for sale. There are so many items in the space that much of the work on paper is piled on tables. Small canvases are stacked face-up on shelves, their edges painted different colors, to be bought in bulk. There are paintings for sale on the bathroom walls. A large metal sleigh bed frame occupies the center of the space on which rows of trashy-kitschy ceramic objects and copies of Mondini-Ruiz’s artist book are set out for sale. As the pieces sell swiftly and are removed, each one is replaced with a seemingly identical artwork. It’s all inexpensive, too; prices start in the single digits. With all this selling going on, it becomes difficult to see the market value of the goods moving out the door. That is the point. It’s like K-Mart at Christmas.

      To understand the situation, one must understand the artist in question. Mondini-Ruiz quit his law profession to pursue artistic endeavors. Over the past two decades he has constructed a reputation as an artist interested in commerce, playing with the boundaries of highbrow and lowbrow art. For example, in the 1990s, he reopened a defunct botánica where old stock (charms, trinkets and flora associated with the mystic arts of preservation and magic) was paired with the artwork and presence of Mondini-Ruiz and other artists. The collection became a cultural landmark in recent San Antonio art history. These days, he is notorious for throwing extravagant parties and dealing cheap art. His visual style is a pastiche of late Baroque, affected painterly gestures, trashy kitsch and cast replicas of treats like cakes and cocktails. Though Mondini-Ruiz and others have attributed examinations of class, race and sexuality to his work, ultimately, he is an unapologetic hustler most often known simply as Franco.

      Mondini-Ruiz’s fast-food culture mentality and personal branding as a fire sale artist comes with drawbacks. Most notably, the artwork is heaped in piles to be rifled through, like junk or last season’s clothes. It is impossible to take these works seriously as exclusive objects. It’s a collection of untheorized, hasty dreck. People eat it up. Perhaps the overarching conceptual basis of Franco’s projects is to play with the viewer’s understanding of commerce in relation to art, but the setup is always the same: have a big opening with a huge party, cheap art and drunk buyers, sell and repeat.

      Is this a calculated sendup of Claus Oldenburg’s The Store? In the 1960s, Oldenburg highlighted the divisions of labor in the capitalist society. He brought the roles of art production and trade into focus by disrupting the established system. Mondini-Ruiz’s lack of progression on this model leaves the outcome of the situation to be that a lot of people buy lots of stuff and it makes them happy. But one must ask: Is it an effective critique of consumer culture to make more consumers?

      Chad Dawkins is an artist and critic based in San Antonio.

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